How Much Income Can A Person Earn If He Draws Social Security Disability?

When a person is drawing Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, they are not prevented from working, but working while getting disability does has the potential to affect eligibility for monthly disability benefits.

Why? Because Social Security Disability and SSI both have an income limit. The limit on how much a person can make from earned income is called substantial gainful activity or SGA. Each year Social Security sets the SGA limit by determining a monthly amount of gross earnings that it considers to be self-supporting. If a disability beneficiary earns above the SGA monthly amount, their benefit may be suspended or even terminated.

In other words, the SGA how money you can make on a monthly basis before you become ineligible to receive disability benefits through either Social Security Disability or SSI. As long as your earnings are under the SGA limit, you should not have to worry about losing your benefits.

What if you are unsure that you can work, even on a limited basis, but still want to try working after you start to receive disability benefits? For that, Social Security provides "trial work months". A disability beneficiary is entitled to nine trial months in a five-year period, beginning with the first month in which they have monthly earnings over the trial work limit (yes, there is another earnings limit that affects disability entitlement). The trial work month earnings limit is always less than the SGA limit.

While an individual has the option of having monthly earnings over the SGA limit during the trial work period, trial work months can be exhausted even if the person's earnings are under SGA, if they have used up their nine trial work months.

Trial work months can be performed anytime during the five period and do not have to be consecutive. Once a person has used their trial work months, they have to stay below the SGA limit in order to avoid work suspensions that could cause them to be overpaid at the very least. Overpayments occur because any month a person earns SGA or more, they are not entitled to be paid for that month. Additionally, if a person performs SGA-level work activity consistently, month after month, it could lead to an eventual termination of disability benefits.

Related: What should you do when a Social Security Disability or ssi overpayment occurs?

After all, the definition of Social Security Disability is any medically determinable mental or physical impairment that has prevented a person from performing SGA for twelve months, is expected to prevent the performance of SGA for twelve months, or is expected to end in death. It would stand to reason that consistent performance of work activity at the SGA earnings level could lead to a finding of "medical improvement" for a Social Security Disability beneficiary.

This is why if a person is drawing disability they should be concerned about work activity and what it could suggest when Social Security reviews the claim at a later date. All claims are subject to periodic reviews every few years and these are called continuing disability reviews.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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